the Carmel

The Martin couple

Louis before Zélie

Physical portrait

 “Tall height (1,76), officer's presence, sympathetic physiognomy, large and uncovered forehead, fair complexion, with a beautiful oval face framed by chestnut hair and, in the pale eyes, a soft and deep flame: he held to the both a gentleman and a mystic and never failed to impress. »

Description of Louis Martin by Father Piat in History of a family 

If his family is originally from Normandy, Louis Joseph Aloys Stanislas Martin was born on August 22, 1823, in Bordeaux , where his father, an army captain, was garrisoned. Louis' only brother, Pierre, was then 4 years old, his sister Marie, 3 years old. Wavy at birth because his father was campaigning in Spain, Louis was baptized in the Sainte-Eulalie church in October.

After his return from Spain, Captain Martin was transferred to Avignon, where Louis' little sister, Anne Fannie, was born in 1826.

In 1828 the family moved again, this time to Strasbourg, Captain Martin's last post. On his retirement, in December 1830, he returned to his native Normandy, to Alençon.

Louis is fluent in French, he easily quotes the classics of literature and write down your favorite passages in notebooks. He is also a very good designer. During his apprenticeship in Strasbourg, he learned German.



In 1842, Louis began to study watchmaking, first in Rennes, with his father's cousin Louis Bohard. He discovered Brittany and became passionate about its culture and folklore.

In September 1843, Louis left Rennes for Strasbourg where his apprenticeship was to continue. In the meantime, he made a trip which took him to the Swiss Alps and on this occasion discovered the monastery of the Great Saint-Bernard. In Strasbourg Louis lives and works with the Mathey family, watchmakers and friends of his father. After two years, he left again for the Saint-Bernard pass and its monastery, but this time in the hope of being welcomed into the community. His ignorance of Latin does not allow him to carry out such a project, but the prior encourages him to fill this gap and then return. Louis returned to Alençon and began studying Latin (and Greek too!). He persisted for more than a year, but stopped his study after a period of illness. He then resumed his watchmaking apprenticeship, this time in Paris where he stayed with his maternal grandmother. He meets his cousin Henri-Charles de Lacauve, student at the Military School, and the two become friends.


Master watchmaker

It was with the title of master watchmaker that Louis returned to Alençon in 1850 and set up his workshop in the parish of Saint-Pierre de Montsort, rue du Pont-Neuf. The house is large, his parents come to live there with him. Later, he added a jewelry store to his watchmaking workshop. He works a lot and prospers, while strictly observing the precepts of the Church: he never opens his shop on Sunday.

In 1857, he bought the Pavillon, a small property in the Senatorerie district. This hexagonal tower and its small garden became his place of retreat where he liked to read and pray. He stores his fishing equipment there. In the Pavilion garden, he places a statue of the Blessed Virgin.

For about eight years Louis lived the peaceful life of a retired bachelor. Work, prayer, good works, healthy distractions and serious reading are enough to populate his existence. He appears to have no inclination towards marriage, much to his mother's dismay. Until that day in 1858 when he crossed the Pont Saint-Léonard…

Zélie before Louis


“Slightly below average height, very pretty face with a pure expression, soberly tied brown hair, a long, harmonious nose, black eyes, sparkling with decision, where at times a hint of shadow of melancholy, Zélie had something to please. Everything about her was liveliness, finesse, amiability.

With a lively and cultivated spirit, a very high practical sense and great character, above all an intrepid faith, she was a superior woman who should attract attention. »

Father Piat, repeating Pauline's words

The most striking qualities in the testimonies we have about Zélie are her deep faith and her great capacity for work. She has a complex and interesting character. She never departs from her aspiration towards the cloister and yet loves her husband and her children, fully fulfilling her role as wife and mother. She has a fantastic enthusiasm for life. By her own admission, she is impatient. She is very talented at making lace and is a savvy businesswoman, while keeping her eyes turned to Heaven. A great letter writer, the numerous letters that we have preserved from her reveal her personality: she appears as a lively and witty woman, who does not spare her critical remarks against the society in which she lives. If suffering does not spare her, she also knows a lot of love.


Zélie's childhood

Marie-Azélie Guérin was born on December 23, 1831 in the parish of Saint-Denis sur Sarthon, near Alençon. She was baptized the next day, Christmas Eve. His father, after ten years in the army, is part of the gendarmerie. Her mother gave birth to their first child two years earlier, Marie-Louise and the family grew ten years later with the birth ofisidore.

Zélie's mother is a woman of faith, but austere, particularly in her relationships with her daughters. Sensitive and delicate Zélie suffered greatly, as she wrote years later to her brother Isidore: “  My childhood, my youth were as sad as a shroud, because, if my mother spoiled you, for me, you know, she was too severe; she, although so good, did not know how to take me, so I suffered a lot from my heart. » (CF 15) The Father is also strict, but more tender with his children. Zélie showed him great affection throughout her life.

In order to give the children the opportunity to receive a good education, the family moved to Alençon, rue Saint-Blaise. To increase the meager income from his gendarme pension, the father became a carpenter, and the mother opened a café, an activity which did not last.

Zélie was then 13 years old and with her sister, went to the school of Perpetual Adoration, with the Sisters of Picpus.


A united brotherhood

Zélie and Marie-Louise, close in age - they are two years apart - were very united from early childhood, and it was this way until their death which occurred in 1877, a few months apart . They are part, with their mother, of pious brotherhoods, notably that of the scapular of Notre-Dame du Mont-Carmel in 1845 and that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1852. They are also part of a prayer association for the salvation of France, which aims to honor the mysteries of sorrows of Our Lord and the Virgin Mary.

Ten years younger than Zélie, Isidore is the “spoiled” little one of the family. Gifted with a lively intelligence and generosity, the stupidities and escapades of his childhood and youth do not alter the very deep affection that Zélie has for him. They tease each other willingly and frankly. She regularly lectures him because of the superficiality of his faith and his too great attachment to “worldly things”

Around 1850, Zélie, who dreamed of a life devoted to God, came to the Sisters of Saint-Vincent de Paul to serve God through the sick and the disinherited, but was refused entry, perhaps to cause of her health: Zélie suffered from severe headaches and respiratory problems throughout her childhood.


Lace maker

Zélie is 20 years old, religious life is refused to her, she has to work and she turns to the Blessed Virgin. On December 8, 1851, after a novena to the Immaculate Conception, she heard an inner voice which said to her “Have some Alençon stitch”. “ Make it happen " and no " do ". So she is not looking for a job as a simple worker but is embarking on the path of a business manager. She had learned the basics of lace making at the Sisters of Picpus school, and perfected her skills in a school where she learned the trade of assembler, then worked in different workshops.

In 1853, she set up her own “office” in her parents’ house on rue Saint-Blaise. On Thursdays, she is there at the disposal of the workers, delivering, receiving and paying for the work. She generally reserves the repair of the tulle, remedies the damage that occurs during multiple manipulations and most often carries out the connection between all the pieces herself.

The commercial part interests him less. It was his sister Marie-Louise who, with their father, made the first contacts with sales stores in Paris. In a letter dated May 10, 1874 to her brother, the eldest, who became Sr. Marie-Dosithée at the Visitation of Le Mans, recounts the adventures of her first trip to Paris: “ It is true that our start for the Alençon point was small and in tears. To begin to set in motion something so important and to do so with such extraordinary timidity that I could not go to our neighbors without blushing; and what's more, finding myself in a big city, without knowing anything, not even a single address of luxury merchants! Also for fear of missing my shot, I wanted to go to all the lace merchants ". The business is launched and prospers.

From 1856 and the prospect of her sister's departure for the Visitation, Zélie stopped producing for herself and worked for the Pigache house in Paris. This house received a silver medal on June 20, 1858 at the Industrial, Agricultural, Horticultural and Artistic Exhibition of Alençon, where the jury rapporteur declared that Mr. Pigache's lace " are highly recommended for their beauty and also for the richness of their design... and they do honor to the intelligent management of Mademoiselle Zélie Guérin, responsible in Alençon for the interests of this industrialist ».

Zélie only regained her autonomy in 1863, when her husband took over customer relations.

Zélie and Louis

The wedding

In the spring of 1858, Zélie, 26 years old, came across Louis Martin, a 35-year-old watchmaker, on the Saint-Léonard d'Alençon bridge and, at the moment she saw him, an inner voice that she attributed to Notre-Dame said to her: " This is the one I prepared for you ».

On July 13, 1858 at midnight, Zélie Guérin married Louis Martin. They settled on rue du Pont-Neuf, in Alençon, where Louis had his watchmaker-jeweler store.


A couple who love each other

Céline (sr Geneviève, in The Mother of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, p. 23) wrote of his parents that their “understanding was perfect”, “their union so complete” ( The Father of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, p. 37). During the beatification processes of Thérèse, theFather Dumaine, who was vicar of the Notre-Dame church in Alençon and baptized Thérèse, gave his testimony: “ The union was remarkable in this family, either between the spouses or between the parents and the children. » (PA 120)

There is great consideration between the two spouses. Zélie respects her husband's authority, and when she does not share his opinion but thinks she is right, she knows how to gently get him to change his views.

They are complementary and united. Each approves and supports the other in their charitable commitments. Likewise in work: it was not so common at the time for a father to support his wife as Mr. Martin did with the children, and even less common for him to leave his own activity (which he loved so much ) to take care, with her (and not in her place), of that of his wife, to “dedicate more time to her and lighten her work” (Céline in The Father of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Céline Martin, p. 31).



At the start of their marriage, Zélie agreed with Louis' proposal to live a simply fraternal union - virginity being considered perfection - until a better understanding of Christian marriage redirected this choice.

Nine children will be born at the Martin home. Four of them die at a young age ; five girls will be nuns. Their parents attach great importance to their human and spiritual formation.

Mr. and Mrs. Martin loved their children. They knew how to tell them, they knew how to prove it to them. They want to please them, through outings in the countryside, afternoons spent at the fair, evenings brightened by roasted chestnuts, songs and poems, without forgetting the imitations that Louis is particularly successful at. They respect the freedom of their children. However great Zélie's desire to see her daughters be religious, she is careful not to influence them, simply welcoming their confidences. Same discretion from Louis who leaves his elders the greatest latitude in their role as mistresses of the house in Les Buissonnets.

Louis and Zélie work a lot. The goal of their professional activity is still children - without a dowry, no future for a girl: she constitutes an essential element for marriage, or for religious life.

At the Beatification Process of Thérèse, Mary declared: “ Upbringing in our family was affectionate, but by no means soft ". This is also what emerges from the testimony of his sisters and friends or servants of the family. Discipline is essential. We care about dress, order and punctuality. Neither language deviation nor idleness are tolerated. Faults are identified and repressed from an early age, stubbornness and capriciousness are fought. But this firmness based on love, always oriented towards the good of the child, is exercised with discernment: “ Brutality has never converted anyone, it only makes slaves. "(CF 195)

This is not to say that there were no difficulties. Léonie's education will be a problem for Louis and Zélie.

The Martin girls, now adults, unanimously claim to have benefited from a careful education.


Charity in action

Louis and Zélie are far from living withdrawn into their family cocoon! On the contrary, they were at the forefront of all the concerns of their time, attentive to those that Providence put in their path. The attention to the poor, their welcome in the home itself, the time spent taking steps for a better life for one or the other... there are numerous examples in the life of the family.

The two spouses draw their strength from prayer, attending Workers' Mass early in the morning. They remain attentive to ensuring that the sick they knew, particularly the dying, could be helped by a loving presence at their side and by the sacraments. Zélie has great concern for her workers. Despite the overwhelming work, she does not hesitate to visit them if they are sick and is concerned about each of them.


Zélie's disease

In 1865, Zélie noticed a lump in her breast, resulting from a blow she had given herself in her youth on the corner of a table. No treatment is prescribed. Physical pain erupts eleven years later, revealing a cancerous tumor.

Letters from this time show total abandonment. She continues to work, devoting herself to her children, to her husband, faithful to herself. In June 1877, she, who did not like pilgrimages, left for Lourdes. But when we return, nothing has changed. The summer is very hard, the illness progressing quickly and the pain intensifying. She died on August 28, at age 45.

Louis without Zélie

A widower, Louis chose to leave Alençon and settle in Lisieux near the Guérin family, in the house of bushes. He lives off his income, surrounded by the affection of his five daughters. The elders share the management of the house and the monitoring of the education of the younger ones. He takes care of his garden, goes fishing in the rivers around Lisieux, and takes a few trips. He continued to go to the first mass every day and managed to convince Isidore Guérin to set up Nocturnal Adoration; he joins the work of St Vincent de Paul who helps the poor.

In October 1882, Pauline was the first to take the path to the cloister. This is not a surprise for Louis who expects it. She entered the Carmel of Lisieux. When Marie joined her on October 15, 1886, the blow was hard for Louis. She is “his first”, as he calls her, the mistress of the house, the one to whom he entrusts the responsibility of leading his flock during his travels. The same year, Léonie, on a whim, joined the Poor Clares during a trip to Alençon. Louis supports his daughter, even if the suddenness surprises him. The very austere rule of the convent did not suit her fragile health, and she only stayed a few months. Louis will go get her without reproaching her for anything.

On the day of Pentecost 1887, Thérèse, 14 years old, also announced her desire to enter Carmel. She is very young, and Louis begins by pointing out to her that she has time. But Thérèse convinces him. And from then on he will be her unfailing support. Léonie was then at the Visitation, from which she left after a few months for health reasons. She made a third attempt in 1893, which again ended in failure.

Céline, for her part, although attracted to religious life, chooses to stay with her father. It was only after Louis' death that she entered Carmel.


Louis' illness

In the spring of 1887, Louis' health suffered the first serious threat: an attack of paralysis of one leg. A year later, worrying symptoms appear: memory loss, distractions, forgetfulness. He who is always impeccably dressed sometimes appears in sloppy outfits.

In June 1888, he left without warning, and disappeared for several days: he was found in Le Havre. Circulatory accidents which cause cries, tears and senseless words alternate with periods of remission where Mr. Martin makes plans. Today, doctors agree that Louis suffered from cerebral arteriosclerosis with a flare-up of uremia.

February 12, 1889: Louis feels threatened, he wants to defend his daughters against imaginary attackers and to do so takes his revolver. This serious crisis led to his internment at the Bon Sauveur in Caen, a specialized hospital for the mentally ill: “the madhouse”, as they said at the time.

Louis is interned under number 14 with this reason: “Delusional demonstrations with possession of a weapon”. Le Bon Sauveur de Caen is one of the first psychiatric establishments in France, it was run at the time by 449 nuns and had up to 215 employees. The sick are divided into eight districts; Louis is installed in the “quiet and semi-quiet” one. He will stay there for 300 years and 3 months.

If medically the moments of crisis and moments of lucidity follow one another, humanly we admire his exemplary behavior which earned him the names of “venerable old man” and “handsome patriarch”. Out of humility, he refuses the private room offered to him, sharing with his companions in misfortune the sweets he receives from his family.

In his good times, he attended mass every day in the hospice chapel and received communion there. He is aware of carrying out an apostolate around him, when he speaks of the need for conversion of many sick people.

The ordeal was heavy, and the humiliation profound, when on June 8, 1889, he had to sign the renunciation of the management of his property.

On May 10, 1892, it was the return to Lisieux, the “end of exile” as Céline would say. One last time, he was able to see his Carmelite daughters again in the visiting room on May 12. Louis is not cured, but almost paralyzed in the legs, he can no longer run away, and Isidore Guérin rents for his brother-in-law, Céline, Léonie and a couple of servants, Marie and Désiré LeJuif, a house next to his.

According to Ms. Guérin, Louis is easy to care for, “he wants everything we want”. Désiré helps him move, drives his wheelchair and makes him eat. Together, they sometimes sing hymns. He has periods of agitation, of sadness, but never of revolt or violent reaction. He speaks little, but is interested in what is happening around him (he likes to listen to his niece Marie play the piano). At the beginning of the summer, in 1893 and 1894, the Guérins took him to Musse castle which they inherited, near Evreux.

From May 1894, his condition worsened and his heart began to fail. A very violent crisis led to the administration of the last sacraments. At the beginning of June, a heart attack suggests that it is the end. But the crisis passes. The trip to Musse takes place at the beginning of July; it is trying for the seriously disabled person, but goes well. On July 11, Louis fell from his bed. On July 28, he received extreme anointing again. He died on Sunday July 29 morning.

His funeral was celebrated at Saint-Pierre Cathedral in Lisieux. He was buried in the town cemetery, where, on the following October 10, Isidore gathered in the same tomb the remains of Zélie, the four children who died at a young age, grandmother Guérin and grandfather Martin.